Cervical Screening Test frequently asked questions
- What is the Cervical Screening Test?
- Why should I have a Cervical Screening Test?
- What is the difference between a Pap smear and Cervical Screening Test?
- What happens during a Cervical Screening Test?
- How will the changes to cervical screening affect me?
- The Cervical Screening Test will only be offered every five years, why the change?
- Why has the age changed from 18 to 25 years for the first test screening test?
- Who needs a Cervical Screening Test?
- Where do I go for a Cervical Screening Test?
- If I have a disability, do I still need a Cervical Screening Test?
- How can women from other cultural and linguistic backgrounds get information on cervical screening?
- Do I have to pay for a Cervical Screening Test?
- What about the results?
- When am I due for my next Cervical Screening Test?
- When should I stop cervical screening?
- What causes cervical cancer?
- Will cervical screening prevent all cervical cancers?
- Is the test still necessary if I have received the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine?
- Can I do a self-collection/self-screening test?
- Where can I find more information?
Cervix Screening Registry
- What is the National Cancer Screening Register?
- What information is stored on the Cervix Screening Register?
- How do my results go on the Registers?
- Can I choose to opt off the Registers?
- How can I update my contact details on the Registers?
- How is my privacy protected?
- What are the benefits of being on the Registers?
A Cervical Screening Test is a quick and simple procedure to check the health of your cervix. The test will look for human papillomavirus (HPV). A number of cells are taken from your cervix and sent to a laboratory for testing. The way the test is done will look and feel the same as when you had a Pap smear. Your cervix is the opening of the uterus ('neck of the womb') and is at the top of your vagina (see the diagram below). For more information visit What is the Cervical Screening Test?
The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate than a Pap smear at detecting early stage HPV. HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer. By detecting a HPV infection early, it allows your healthcare provider to monitor the infection and intervene if required. This is why every woman aged 25 to 74 should have regular Cervical Screening Tests.
The Cervical Screening Test will look and feel the same as the Pap smear. However, the Pap smear only looked for cell changes in the cervix, whereas the Cervical Screening Test looks for the HPV which can lead to cell changes in the cervix.
The Cervical Screening Test is better at preventing cervical cancer because it looks for HPV before the infection starts to change the cells. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for HPV to develop into cervical cancer. This means that the new test is safe to have every five years because of the time it takes for HPV to cause harmful changes to your cervical cells.
The latest medical and scientific evidence shows that having a Cervical Screening Test every five years is just as safe, and is more effective at preventing cervical cancer than having a Pap smear every two years. For more information, visit the How is the test more accurate?.
What happens during a Cervical Screening Test?
A Cervical Screening Test is a simple test to check the health of your cervix. It only takes a few minutes to carry out. For you, if you have ever had a Pap test before, the way the test is done will look and feel the same.
- A health care provider will take you to a private room where you will be asked to remove your underwear and to lie on your back on an examination bed.
- You will be given a sheet to cover yourself from the waist down, and if this has not been provided, you can ask for one.
- A speculum (an instrument which may be made of stainless steel or hard plastic) is gently placed in the entrance to the vagina so that the cervix can be seen.
- A small brush are used to rub some cells from the cervix.
- It should not hurt but it might feel uncomfortable. You can ask to have a pillow under you to help put your cervix in the right position. If it hurts, tell your health care provider immediately.
- The cells are sent to a laboratory for testing.
Remember, if you are nervous, you can take a support person (such as your worker, friend or family member) with you. You can also request a female healthcare provider to do the test. If a female is not available at your current health centre, you may wish to contact another clinic.
For more information, visit How is a Cervical Screening Test done?.
How will the changes to cervical screening affect me?
The way the sample is collected will stay the same.
- Your first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after your last Pap smear. If this test shows you do not have HPV, then your next test will be due in five years.
- You will receive a reminder for a Cervical Screening Test, three months before you are due to go for the test.
- You will start cervical screening at age 25 or when you are first sexually active if you are aged over 25. If you are under 25 and have already had a Pap test, you will not be due to be recalled for cervix screening until you are 25 unless you previously received a positive test result. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain or discharge you should discuss this with your health professional.
- Women aged 70 to 74 years will be invited to have an exit test to check that everything is ok, before you stop having regular screening tests.
- HPV vaccinated women still require cervical screening as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
The Cervical Screening Test will only be offered every five years, why the change?
New evidence about cervical screening has found that screening for HPV every five years is more effective than, and just as safe as, screening with a Pap smear every two years. Because of this more effective test, women will only need to screen every five years, regardless of whether or not they have had the HPV vaccination.
The new Cervical Screening Test detects HPV, which is the first step in developing cervical cancer. Persistent HPV can cause abnormal cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. However, this usually takes a long time, often more than 10 years. While the Pap smear could detect abnormal cell changes, the new Cervical Screening Test will detect the persistent HPV that causes the abnormal cell changes that if left untreated, may eventually lead to the development of cervical cancer.
Screening every five years can detect persistent infections which may be of concern and avoids detecting infections that are likely to go away on their own within one to two years.
For more information, visit Why has screening changed from 2 to 5 years?.
Why has the age changed from 18 to 25 years for the first screening test?
Research shows that beginning cervical screening at age 25 years is safe. For more information, visit Why has the age changed from 18 to 25 years for the first screening test?.
If you are a woman aged between 25 and 74 years of age and have ever been sexually active, you should have a Cervical Screening test every five years until the age of 74. You still need to have cervical screening even if you:
- are well and have no symptoms
- have received the HPV vaccine
- have only had one sexual partner
- identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender(and still have a cervix), and/or Intersex (LGBTI)
- no longer have periods/are past menopause or going through menopause
- are no longer sexually active
- have had a hysterectomy (your doctor will advise if you no longer require the Cervical Screening Test).
If you have symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge and pain you should see your health care professional immediately. For more information, visit Who should have the test?.
Where do I go for a Cervical Screening Test?
Cervical Screening Tests are available at a number of locations throughout the state. Find out more about where to get a Cervical Screening Test.
Yes. Women with disabilities need cervical screening too. If you have a disability and require special assistance in having a Cervical Screening Test, there are places with adjustable beds. Please contact your local health service provider to discuss if they can meet your needs. Find out more about where to get a Cervical Screening Test
Information resources are available in a number of languages. You can access these from the National Cervical Screening Program. For cultural and linguistic backgrounds information, visit the Cervical Screening Resources page.
The Cervical Screening Test is covered by Medicare if you are aged 25 to 74. When you make an appointment for a Cervical Screening Test, ask your health care provider if you will be required to pay for a doctor’s consultation fee and the Cervical Screening Test. There are clinics that will bulk bill and you will not have to pay for the test or consultation fee.
Your healthcare provider will contact you directly to discuss the results, next steps and any further testing and/or treatment that you may need. Results are normally available within a few weeks from when you had the test.
An abnormal result doesn't usually mean you have cancer. For more information about abnormal Cervical Screening Test results, see Cervical Screening Test results – what do they mean page.
When am I due for my next Cervical Screening Test?
Your first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after your last Pap smear. If your results are normal, you will then have the test every five years after that. You will be sent a reminder letter letting you know when your Cervical Screening Test is due. If you are under 25, you will be sent an invitation when you are due to start screening. If you can’t remember when you had your last Cervical Screening Test, would like to know when you are due for your next one or need to update or remove your details, you can contact the South Australian Cervix Screening Register (SACSR) on 1800 901 112.
When should I stop cervical screening?
Women between 70 and 74 years of age who have had a regular Cervical Screening Test will be recommended to have an exit HPV test before leaving the National Cervical Screening Program.
Women older than 69 years of age who have never been screened or not had regular screening tests should have Cervical Screening Test if they request screening.
What causes cervical cancer?
Changes to the cells of the cervix that can lead to cancer are caused by long-term infection of HPV. HPV is a common outcome of being sexually active, with 4 out of 5 people having HPV at some stage in their life.
Usually, your body will clear HPV naturally in one to two years, however in a small number of cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.
For more information about the link between HPV and cervical cancer, visit the About HPV and cervical cancer web page.
Will cervical screening prevent all cervical cancers?
No. There is no effective population based screening test for rare neuroendocrine cervical cancers. Given the current state of scientific evidence, neither the Pap smear nor the Cervical Screening Test can effectively detect rare neuroendocrine cervical cancers. However, the majority of cell changes will be detected in a Cervical Screening Test.
Is the test still necessary if I have received the HPV vaccine?
Yes. The HPV vaccine is very effective at protecting against HPV but it does not protect against all types of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer. Even if you have been immunised you still need to have regular screening.
Can I do a self-collection/self-screening test?
Self-collection for HPV testing is only offered for women who:
- have never had a cervical screening test and are 30 years or over or
- are overdue for cervical screening by two years or longer and are 30 years of age or over, and
- decline the standard Cervix Screening Test.
Unlike bowel screening which can be done at home, women will need to do the cervical self-sampling in a clinical setting, such as a doctor’s surgery or family planning clinic. If you are eligible, and choose this option, you will be given instructions on how to do the test and allowed to conduct the test in private. The self-sampling process is a bit like inserting a large cotton bud into your vagina.
If the self-collected sample tests positive for HPV, the woman will need to return to her doctor or nurse for further testing or referral to a specialist.
For more info about self-screening see How to take your own HPV test (PDF 985KB).
Where can I find more information?
There is a frequently asked questions list about cervical screening on the National Cervical Screening Program website or speak to a Cervical Screening Test Provider.
Cervical Screening Registry
What is the National Cancer Screening Register?
The National Cancer Screening Registry (NCSR) is a central database that will record, analyse and report on cancer screening data for the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) commencing later in 2018.
From 1 December 2017, the NCSR has been collecting results for the Cervical Screening Tests and a duplicate copy has also been sent to the South Australian Cervix Screening Register (SACSR).
What information is stored on the Cervical Screening Registers?
The following information is stored on the National Cervical Screening Register (NCSR) and the South Australian Cervix Screening Register (SACSR):
- the date of your last Cervical Screening Test
- your Cervical Screening Test results
- your name
- date of birth
- Medicare number
- your doctor’s name and address
Results of further investigations such as colposcopies and biopsies will also be recorded as these results affect how often you will need Cervical Screening Tests in the future.
All information recorded on the Registers is confidential. See How is my privacy protected? for more information on how we ensure your information is confidential.
When you have a Cervical Screening Test, the results are sent from the laboratory to the NCSR and the South Australian Cervix Screening Register (SACSR) run by the Victorian Cervical Screening Registry (VCSR). If you don’t want your name and address recorded on the Register, then tell the clinic staff when you have your Cervical Screening Test or contact the SACSR on 1800 901 112.
Can I choose to 'opt off' the Registers?
If you do not want your results recorded on the Registers, you will need to tell your Cervical Screening Test provider every time you have a test or alternatively you can opt off the Registers. Opting off the Registers involves the deletion of all your information and details from the Register’s information system.
Once you have been deleted you can no longer be located on the Registers, you will no longer receive reminders when you’re overdue for a Cervical Screening Test and the Register is unable to act as a safety net for the follow-up of any abnormal tests.
How can I update my contact details on the Registers?
If you have moved address and would like to make sure you continue to receive reminder letters, you can contact the SACSR by calling 1800 901 112.
You can also withdraw your details from the Registers at any time. This means you will not get a reminder letter and your doctor will not be able to access your history.
Alternatively, you can remain on the Registers but request that no correspondence be sent to you.
Only you, your doctor and the laboratory have access to your details held on the Registers. The details of any cases of cervical cancer are also forwarded to the SA Cancer Registry. This information is protected under the South Australian Public Health Act 2011 and the South Australian Information Privacy Principles Instruction (PDF 230KB) (Premier and Cabinet Circular No 12).
Information is also used for research to improve knowledge about preventing cervical cancer. No research information identifies an individual person.
Being on the register means:
- Reminder letters are sent when you are overdue for a Cervical Screening Test. The timing will depend on the result of your last test
- The Register follows up abnormal results so they are not overlooked
- The laboratory and your doctor can understand your Cervical Screening Test result better.